Why gender and climate justice are inextricable

A protestor climbed a light pole outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on Monday and hung and unfurled a sign reading "You are not alone" in Spanish to the detainees inside. (Photo by Angelica Chazaro)
A protestor climbed a light pole outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on Monday and hung and unfurled a sign reading “You are not alone” in Spanish to the detainees inside. (Photo by Angelica Chazaro)

On Sept.  21, I joined a group 30 organizers and activists  to block deportation busses from leaving the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, an action led by the NWDC Resistance Coalition.

I realized — locking arms with fellow women of color, queer and trans activists — that we were standing on the front lines of climate and gender injustice. At this year’s People’s Climate March tomorrow, standing together at the intersection of these issues will be more important than ever.

Now on the heels of GEO Group’s 10-year contract renewal, NWDC is one of the largest immigration prisons in the country. Up to 200 people, mostly women, are transferred from the U.S.-Mexico border to the detention center each month. Recently, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has gotten flack for disproportionately placing transgender detainees in solitary confinement.

According to a recent Fusion report,  more than 300 people are in solitary confinement in ICE custody every night, 75 of whom are trans detainees. While transgender women only make up one out of 500 detained immigrants in this country, they make up an alarming one out of every five confirmed sexual assaults in immigration detention.

At NWDC,  built on a superfund site exposing the detainees to pollution every day, the climate impact of the earthquake Seattleites are nervously anticipating would undoubtedly be disproportionate for detainees. In a recent simulation of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake along the Seattle fault line, similar to a quake that occurred about 1,000 years ago, a team of researchers found that many areas of the Tideflats, including the NWDC, would be more than six feet underwater.

According to a 2009 United Nations (UN) report, “poverty and discrimination render women 14 times more likely than men to die in a climate-related disaster.” In the aftermath of climate disruptions and disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, cases of human trafficking and violence against women and children increased.

Violence, economic instability, drought, and superstorm conditions have forced millions across the globe to migrate from their homes; it’s no surprise that women comprise 20 million of the estimated 26 million people to have been displaced by climate change

But women are not just vulnerable victims; women hold the solutions to climate justice. Whether in the global North or the global South, women are already leading from the front lines, as community leaders, as providers of water, food, and energy and as caretakers of the land and home.

Producing half of all the food we eat, women hold the knowledge and roles of localized, community-based economies to counter the current exploitative and extractive economy which has led us down this destructive path that prioritizes profit over people and the planet.

Citizens gathered outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in the dawn hours to blockade busses with deportees from leaving. (Photo by Angelica Chazaro)
Activists gathered outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in the dawn hours to blockade busses with deportees from leaving. (Photo by Angelica Chazaro)

In December, the United Nations will hold the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris. This is the 21st year these climate conversations have not yielded any response from governments to make cutting emissions mandatory. Leading up to COP, social movements from all over the world are mobilizing to condemn the inaction of governments and point out false solutions that brought us to climate disaster in the first place, such as fracking, nuclear power and carbon markets. 

In Seattle, many of us who protested against the NWCD, will march together at the People’s Climate March tomorrow on Oct. 14, with a “Womxn of Color and Families” contingent. It is a national day of action to call for systems change in order to address climate change, poverty and displacement together with solutions from impacted community members — especially women of color, family, and queer and trans folks. 

The “Womxn of Color and Families” contingent was initially formed for International Working Women’s Day, with representation from Got Green, Families of Color Seattle, GABRIELA Seattle, Surge Northwest, NWDC Resistance Coalition, Community to Community and many other grassroots organizations with women of color in leadership.

Linking arms with fellow activists of color like queer artist and educator Elizabeth Ortega at the NWDC blockade last month was a reminder that linking our issues and identities, and uniting our voices is imperative for progress.

“Everything is connected. Everything,” said Ortega. “We need to start building bridges instead of walls. And we are not going to stop.”

The People’s Climate March will begin at City Hall in downtown Seattle on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and end at Occidental Park with a rally.

For those who cannot join us on the streets, join Grassroots Global Justice Alliance starting at 11 a.m. tomorrow on Oct. 14 for a twitter town hall on women, gender and climate. Make sure to follow @ggjalliance and tweet with the following hashtags:‪  #‎PeoplesClimate, ‪#‎COP21 and ‪#‎DefendingDignity.

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